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Family of driver killed in bridge crash win legal action

David Bowes, 46, drowned when his Toyota pickup hit parapet and plunged into river.

Crash: Driver David Bowes died after pickup plunged from bridge.
Crash: Driver David Bowes died after pickup plunged from bridge. © STV

The family of a plumber who drowned when his pickup plummeted from a bridge into a river have won a legal action for damages.

David Bowes drowned after his Toyota hit the faulty parapet of the Kyle of Tongue bridge and plunged into the water.

On Friday, a judge ruled Highland Council had failed to replace a defective railing and parapet on the bridge on the A838.

Lord Mulholland said that if the railing and parapet had been properly replaced, the council "would have prevented the death of the deceased".

The judge added: "There was a pressing need to address this problem. The defender (the council) took six years from being placed on notice of the problem."

The replacement work was eventually done in 2011, the year after Mr Bowes's death and six years after an engineer had reported the problem.

Lord Mulholland added: "The defender's approach was to hope for the best and leave it to chance.

"The bridge is essential for remote communities over which school buses and emergency services travel. The safety of these communities is as important as the safety of communities in the busy conurbations of the central belt."

Mr Bowes, 46, who ran a plumbing and heating business, died when his vehicle crashed into the river in February 2010.

His partner and other relatives sued the council seeking damages of more than £800,000.

In the action the family had argued the council had a duty to install a temporary secondary barrier and speed reducing measures prior to the accident.

The local authority maintained that it did not owe a duty of care to the deceased. It also submitted there was no obligation to provide a parapet of any strength and therefore no requirement to put interim measures in place pending its replacement.

Lord Mulholland said there were no witnesses to the accident. 

But he added: "Putting all this evidence together, which I accepted, the deceased lost control of his vehicle and it gradually, at a shallow angle, veered across the carriageway crossing from his own lane to the lane reserved for vehicles travelling in the opposite direction, without any discernible attempts to rectify the loss of control, mounted the pavement and collided with the parapet."

The judge stated: "It is an inescapable inference that the loss of control was due to the negligence of the driver. Drivers must drive for the conditions and even careful drivers, such as the deceased, make mistakes."

But he added: "As the deceased did not contribute in any way to the defective parapet and would not have lost his life had the parapet been operating as designed, in fact he would only have sustained minor injuries or none at all, I do not regard the deceased's negligent driving as having contributed in any significant way to causing the harm."

The decision from the Court of Session followed previous findings from a fatal accident inquiry which found Mr Bowes's death "could have been avoided" if the parapet had been replaced.

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